What Fingerprint is Your Business Leaving Behind?

When I was a kid, my mom could always tell when I had been reading the newspaper. All she had to do was find my black fingerprints on the nicely painted white door jambs and window sills and she could figure out where I was. Actually, that problem of leaving newspaper fingerprints behind persisted well into adulthood until about the time we stopped subscribing to the newspaper.

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we leave fingerprints. As individuals we have an effect on those around us and those with whom we come in contact. The same is true of our businesses and organizations. How we conduct ourselves in the business world leaves at least a trace of a fingerprint behind. Sometimes it is a good thing, sometimes it is a bad thing.

I got home from a meeting yesterday and found this thing on my front porch:

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And the sad thing is, it will most likely go right in the trash. I won’t waste any time here with my thoughts on phone books and Yellow Pages, but when you see how may of these go unused, sitting on front steps and by the curb for months, it certainly is not the good kind of fingerprint to be left behind.

I look at businesses, particularly my business, and wonder what impact my work is having on others and the world around me. Is it positive or negative? Am I making a difference in the world?

I think of people like the Fishers, whom I featured in my post about business humanity yesterday, and while their business is no longer here, they had a great impact on so many people in a positive way.

I think about my clients and particularly how my for-profit clients partner with nonprofit organizations, or how they work to be sustainable and local. We try hard to support small, independently owned businesses, whether they be local to here, or elsewhere. After all, that’s the kind of business I am, and I want others to support me, right?

It’s not all about making money, and doing anything you can to maximize your profits. That’s the old model that is dying out. It’s important to be socially and environmentally conscious. It’s important to understand that sometimes you have to do the “right thing,” even if it might cut into your bottom line. And then yesterday I also read a post from Lisa Gerber about how she is trying to define her new startup, by setting herself up as something known as a Certified B Corporation. It’s a new-ish way of doing business that understands that people matter; communities matter; and that sometimes you have to do what is right for the world or your community, and not just what will bring in the most money.

It’s about understanding that every tweet, every Facebook post, every other thing we do online, is a part of that fingerprint. It all leaves a lasting impression that is part of our digital footprint, as opposed to our carbon footprint.

My one meeting yesterday was with some folks from the Lancaster County Community Foundation. In speaking with them I learned about a movement of which they are a part, to change the language and culture of the nonprofit world. They are working to move away from calling these organizations “nonprofits” and toward a newer term: Community Benefit Organizations or CBOs. For some it might be a matter of semantics, but the overall idea behind the concept is a good one. Rather than talk about our organizations by telling the world what we are structurally (an organization that collects your money but doesn’t make a profit), but by telling the world what we do (benefit the community by bringing about change).

It’s an important shift that says,

“This is the type of fingerprint we want to leave on our community.”

I like that. And that’s what I think will set the successful businesses and nonprofits…er…community benefit organizations, apart from those that are merely doing things the way they’ve always been done. And it’s something I know I’ll be writing about more in the near future.

Actually, this is the way I’ve always tried to run my business, but haven’t really been able to articulate it properly. It’s what I try to stress with my clients as I work with them to build a strong digital presence online that is rooted in, and positively changes, their business culture. It requires a fundamental shift in the way we think, act, and speak. It requires us to change our vocabulary and be more thoughtful and deliberate in the way we do things.

What fingerprint are you leaving behind as you walk through this world and conduct business, both as a businessperson and a consumer? I’d love to hear your ideas on this as I seek to do more, and do it better.